Kandahar Ski Club member Blaise Giezendanner gives K Racing the lowdown on his awesome breakthrough season………

It is now over a year since I last wrote and what a year it was.  I left you with the news that I was looking forward to my first season on the FIS World Cup Circuit as a fully fledged member of the French World Cup Speed Team.  I had just won the SAC (South American Cup) Downhill in Chile earning 6 FIS points and now I needed to go after those very elusive World Cup points so that I could get a good start bib in the top 30.  I also spoke about my delight that the World Cup circuit was finally returning to Chamonix and my high hopes of success there together with my apprehension for my first start on the very demanding Hahnenkahm course in Kitzbuhel.

After spending 6 weeks in Chile we returned to the European glaciers to train through the autumn and then left for North America middle November for a couple of weeks preparation to adapt to the North American conditions and snow in Canada.

Unlike the technicians who start their World Cup circuit in Solden on the glacier in October, our first races are only end November in Lake Louise, Canada.

Competition within the French Ski Team itself is tough.  We are nine altogether and at the beginning of the 2015/2016 season we were only accorded 7 start bibs by FIS.  This meant that we were three racers, including myself, in competition for one start bib.  The coaches would decide who raced depending on who was best in training.  This was physically very tiring as we had to be flat out on every run.  The only way to get more start bibs per team is to have more racers ranked in the top 30 in the world, i.e. World Cup qualified.  This was certainly going to be my objective for 2016.

I was successful and was selected to race both the Lake Louise and Beaver Creek downhills.  I came 33rd and 30th respectively, a good first result with my first World Cup points for a finish in the top 30.

We then returned to Europe and I raced Val Gardena (27th) and Santa Caterina (20th), before a well earned rest for Christmas.  I was happy, I already had 3 top 30 finishes in 4 races.

The new year was quickly upon us and off to Wengen.  I got a 29th on the Lauberhorn and the same in Garmisch.

Now Kitzbuehel….

As you will all surely remember, Kitzbuehel was a disaster.  The weather conditions were very bad and several racers crashed badly, including Svindal and so they stopped the race after racer number 30.  I didn’t get to race, but I did do all the training runs and I still remember vividly dreaming about the race course all night.  I think the Hahnenkamm kind of has that effect on everybody.

Off to South Korea for the pre-olympics.  Jeongseon was staging its first World Cup races in preparation for the Olympic Games in 2018.

I did OK in the Downhill, 26th, still earning those precious World Cup points, and then came the breakthrough that we all dream about.  I knew my Super G run was good but when I saw the score board and heard the applause in the finish area and saw my 8th place, I was over the moon.  8th place in a World Cup Super G, not just in the top 30 but in the top 10 with a start bib of 39.  Not even I had been greedy enough to think that I could achieve such a result.

Things go in pairs, so they say and we were off to Chamonix now…..

Chamonix is my home town, my garden where I grew up and where all my family and friends are supporting me.  This is got to be where it is going to happen.

I had a fair amount of pressure on me being the local kid, but somehow that didn’t bother me once through the start gate.  I know this piste the « Vert des Houches », this is where it all began and where I decided I wanted to be a World Cup downhill skier.

Weather was again a problem.  My first race was to be the Alpine Combined where we ski one run of slalom and one run on a shortened downhill course. Weather was bad so the organisation inversed the runs to have the slalom first.  This was not good for me.  Unfortunately my slalom run was not outstanding and so I didn’t finish in the top 30 and so I didn’t get a good start number when they reversed the order for the second run being the downhill.  I think I went off something like 39th.  At the first interval I was already down to 34th, then 27th, then 21st, then 15th and finally I finished in 10th position.  I remember the crowd being ecstatic and then I figured it out too, not only had I come 10th in the Alpine Combined but I had actually won the Dowhnill leg.  My first World Cup victory….

Of course this set me up for the « real » downhill the next day.  I didn’t expect to beat Dominic Paris again, but I was certainly going to give it a go.  To cut a long story short, I came 9th, what an achievement.  What I didn’t expect was all the media attention I was getting, interviews on Eurosport, local radio and newspapers, but don’t get me wrong that is something that I could certainly get used to.

Only one race left, Norway and Kvitfjell.  I was now starting in the top 30, actually bib number 4, because of my World Cup points.  What a pleasure not to have to wait until everyone else had gone down and it was getting dark before starting…..  I finished 14th and very happy.

My season was totaly unexpected for me.  I had hoped to get a few top 30 finishes and make World Cup points.  I actually finished in the top 30 in every race apart from Lake Louise and I also got 3 top 10 places, including 1st in the Alpine Combined DH in Chamonix.

What a dream come true and now we are starting 2016/2017 and I am World Cup qualified!

Pat Shepherd